Luton Hoo is an English country house and estate with easy access to London. But what is a ‘hoo’? The unusual name “Hoo” is a Saxon word meaning the spur of a hill. Luton Hoo is not mentioned in the Domesday Book, but a family called de Hoo lived on the site for four hundred years, until the death of Lord Thomas Hoo in 1455. In 1762 the then owner, Francis Hearne, sold the estate to John Stuart, 3rd Earl of Bute, who was a Scottish nobleman and little-known Prime Minister from 1762 to 1763.
The present house was built by the neoclassical architect Robert Adam. The original plan was never completed and much of the work was a remodelling of the older house. It was one of the largest houses for which Adam was wholly responsible. Celebrated landscape gardener Capability Brown redesigned the park. He dammed the River Lea to form two lakes.
In 1903 the house was purchased by Sir Julius Wernher, who had made his fortune from South African diamonds. He had the interior remodelled by Charles Mewes, the architect of the Ritz Hotel in London. The striking marble-clad dining room was designed to display Beauvais tapestries. Even those unfortunates who can only stay at Luton Hoo for bed and breakfast can enjoy this sumptuous room, which is a noteworthy restaurant open from the first meal of the day until the last, and lunch in-between. It’s a dining room in which to linger. Watch pheasants on the frosty ground and enjoy just one more cup of coffee and bite of toast.
Russian Orthodox chapel
Wernher’s son Harold Augustus married Anastasia de Torby, the daughter of a member of the former Russian Imperial family. She brought with her works by the celebrated court jeweller Peter Carl Fabergé, renowned for his bejewelled Easter eggs. There is still a Russian Orthodox chapel in the house, with a marvellous painted ceiling. During the Second World War Luton Hoo was Headquarters Eastern Command and Luton Hoo’s grounds were used as a tank testing facility for the Churchill tanks that were produced in the nearby Vauxhall motor factories.
Most people will have had at least a glimpse of Luton Hoo, even if they don’t know it. Its architecture is outstanding, reflecting the very best of this type of opulent home. It has appeared in many films including A Shot in the Dark, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Eyes Wide Shut, and The Secret Garden; more recently Burke and Hare and the BBC TV series of Charles Dickens’ Little Dorrit. In 2010, filming of War Horse took place at Luton Hoo.
In 2007 part of the Luton Hoo Estate was converted into a luxury hotel called Luton Hoo Hotel, Golf, and Spa. I have stayed in many country house hotels and have enjoyed each of them, but perhaps Luton Hoo is the one which retains most of its original characteristics and ambiance. Expectations of quality are raised before one even reaches the house: a drive along the tree-lined approach is magical!
Roaring wood fires
Restorations have been sympathetic, while technology has been seamlessly introduced into Luton Hoo. The owners, Elite Hotels, selected furnishings for both private and public spaces which are appropriate for such a grand house. In winter the ground floor has the aroma of roaring wood fires, and chandeliers twinkle. There are classic sofas and soft cushions into which one can snuggle with the latest lifestyle magazine or best-seller.
The hotel has 228 bedrooms and suites which sweep guests back to a gentler age of tasteful luxury and calm. Rooms are individually furnished and decorated to reflect their particular charm and aspect. Many bedrooms have views across the estate, the gardens or parkland. Bathrooms are well-appointed and wifi abounds. Staff are attentive and friendly and well-trained, and are a credit to a hotel which is comfortable rather than intimidating.
Luton Hoo represents my hotel of choice. It has polish, amenity and great beauty. It has evident history and pedigree, and that would be impossible to introduce into a new building. This isn’t a ‘themed’ Stately Home, it quite simply is the real thing but with modern conveniences. Luton Hoo should be on every well-tailored bucket list.
Luton Hoo Hotel Golf & Spa
The Mansion House
Phone: +44 (0)1582 734437
Hotel review by Chrissie Walker © 2018